Friday, July 13, 2012

The Dark Knight Rises (2012 review, 9th of 9)

     It’s always been a tradition that Batman movies come in pares, there were two Batman movies adapted from TV shows, two Batman films were directed by Tim Burton and two other Batman movies were directed by Joel Schumacher but now Christopher Nolen will be the first to direct three movies as he gives us his final installment in the dark Knight trilogy titled “The Dark Knight Rises”.
     It was a long time waiting for this movie but the wait was worth it because this completely exceeded my expectations. In my last review of “The Dark Knight”, I stated that it was the best of these Batman movies by far and technically that’s true because it’s more sophisticated with big concepts and down to earth themes. However, “The Dark Knight Rises” is a very close second favorite in the series and could ave been my absolute favorite, in not for some very small things to pick at. The film still concludes Christopher Nolen’s Dark Knight trilogy perfectly with everything coming full circle, every plot thread brought to a satisfying conclusion, every character given their proper send off and it urns the title of one of the greatest movie trilogy’s of all time, on par with the original “Star Wars” trilogy. Each film picks up perfectly where the last film left off and plot elements from previous films are always lingering in the background. The film begins with flashbacks on the events of the last film with Two Face and how he held Gordon’s family hostage, now eight years later, Gordon feels that it’s time the real hero gets noticed and the real villain from this event should be revealed. But now Gotham city is in a state of piece thanks to all that Harvey Dent stood for and it’s hard to tell everyone that they’ve been living in the rays of a false idle and you can really feel the weight of what the characters are going through and how this is just tearing up both Gordon and Batman. Meanwhile, a new enemy is secretly scheming under the streets of Gotham, waiting for just the right moment to strike. Then when he makes his move, everything suddenly goes to hell. This is a story I’ve always wanted, a powerful villain actually defeats our hero, rounds up most of the civilians to follow his rule and completely takes over the city. Now our broken hero has to reform and rise up from the ashes to take on this powerful new threat.   
      Christian Bale is back in the role, making him the first actor to play Batman more than twice in a theatrical Batman film and he is just on top of his craft in this movie. His portrayal of Bruce Wane was done very well this time and it was such a joy to see this broken man reform himself. We don’t see as much of him as Batman, but the story is so good that you hardly notice. Plus, it only makes his screen time all the more riveting when you see less of him. The ending is really good and a proper way to end this series, as well as this characters journey because now it can go out with dignity before another writer or director can take it and turn it into something less good. It also allows me to except that the series is done and that we don’t need another film.
     In a nice little twist, the hero’s legacy will still continue on through all the other hero’s of Gotham city, most notably in a young man named John Blake, who’s played very well by Joseph Gordon Levitt. Throughout the majority of the film, he’s a young cop, who’s very smart and has a lot in common with Bruce Wane. It doesn't take him long to figure out his real identity and in the end, he learns from Batman’s acts of heroism and continues his legacy as Robin. I especially like that even without the novelty of him being Robin, he's still an excellent character that you cheer for every time he's on screen. We don't even see him in an actual Robin costume, but never the less, this is personally my favorite portrayal of Robin to date. 
      My favorite character in this film by far is the new Catwoman played by Anne Hathaway, which is by far the best portrayal of Catwoman in any of these movies. In the 1966 film “Batman The Movie”, she was just another hammy villain that wanted to take over the world, and while that was done with lots of charm and enjoyment, it didn’t do anything significant to the character. The 1992 movie “Batman Returns” made her a supernatural creature that actually had nine lives and no clear motivations, she was just a crazy person that did things. This Catwoman is exactly what I’ve been waiting for, she’s a small town cat burglar that usually does things for her own benefit but occasionally plays for both sides. That’s exactly what Catwoman should be, someone who strikes out on her own as a vigilante, just taking a slightly edgier approach than Batman, using things like guns and sharp objects that he would never use. The friend slash enemy relationship between these two was pulled off very well, whenever both Batman and Catwoman are together on screen things get really exciting, whether there fighting together or just walking together. On a side note, I really love how subtle the costume is and it’s a nice little touch that her goggles come up above her head and become her cat ears. Now when I first heard that Anne Hathaway was going to play Catwoman, I remember being very skeptical thinking that this actress from cute girl flicks like “The Princess Diaries” and “Ella Enchanted” could never do the character justice.  I was completely wrong, every inflection she gives as this character is spot on, she has a lot of energy and is clearly having a blast with this role, so while it’s not on Oscar standards, it’s still a shining performance in an actresses carrier.
      Our lead villain is the supper strong Bane, who’s also brought to life perfectly by Tom Hardy. Despite coming off on the heels of two of the greatest villains I’ve seen in the past ten years (referring to Aaron Eckhart’s Two Face and Heath Ledger’s Joker), Bane dose an awesome job coming off as this really bad ass and sinister villain, with some subtle character depth thrown in there. He just has this very commanding screen appearance and he can convey so much with just his eyes alone. The voice is also interesting, instead of going for a deep and creepy voice, he sounds more like an intelligent gentleman, that would greet you at the front door, which is a nice contrast to his monstrous appearance. His mask is a little different but it’s a substantial update from his traditional Mexican wrester mask. Bane's motivations in this film are simple but his actions are really big, bigger than any other Batman villain and that’s what makes him so intense and fun to watch. You really feel that Batman has met his match and that made it all the more exciting when we see the two fight.
    Liam Neeson himself even reprises his role from the first film as the villain Ra’s Al Ghul, we get this awesome little seen where he visits Bruce Wane in a dream and tells him that even though he’s physically dead, he’ll still live on through his child. This was kind of interesting because it made it feel like one of Batman’s greatest foes could continue in a different form, however, while I like that concept a lot, I could care less about Ra’s Al Ghul's actual air.

    His child is a villain named Talia Al Ghul, who sort of becomes a bones villain in he end. It's effective on some small level but it also undermines Banes awesomeness by having this little girl be the master mind behind everything. Talia Al Ghul is played by Marion Cotillard and throughout most of the film, she goes by the name Miranda and plays like a friend to Bruce, then in the end her identity and real motivations are revealed. This is slightly reminiscent of what Ra’s Al Ghoul did in "Batman Begins", however the twist worked so much better in that film. Talia Al Ghul's twist is at the tail end of the climax, which prevents us from getting a chance to know her as a villain. She doesn't leave much of an impression and it’s a lousy way to introduce a character that not too many people outside of Batman fans would know about. This doesn't ruin the movie by any means, it's just something I could have done without.    

      One other minor complaint is that Cillian Murphy makes this very unnecessary cameo, once again as Dr. Crane, (A.K.A Scarecrow), however he never where’s his actual Scarecrow costume and he's in this silly little court room scenario that was just a little too hokey for the films own good. I really liked his cameo in “The Dark Knight” because we never got to see Batman defeat Scarecrow in “Batman Begins”, and it was very satisfying to see him take this villain out but now it’s not as satisfying because we never see him beaten after this scene. But like I said, this is just a little nitpick and it doesn't ruin the film in any way.
     All the other main characters from the series like Mr. Fox and Commissioner Gordon are all back and even more human than they were in the last two films. This especially applies to Alfred who’s far more of a father to Bruce Wane than a butler, and while that’s always been a trait of the character, I feel that they really nailed the emotional tones in this film. The interactions between these characters carry so much weight and honest emotion that it really makes me care more about them as people, rather than just well written characters.
     The new Bat wing was cool, however, I really wish it could have looked more like the classic Bat wing from Tim Burtons “Batman”, or at the very least had some kind of Bat feature. The action in this film is spectacular and the climax is the best finally in the entire series. Not only are you really getting behind this story and the situation at hand but lots of things are going down, Gotham is at war, the Bat wing is flying through the city, lots of explosions, lots of high stakes, car chases and it all boils down to a thrilling final confrontation between Batman and Bane. This is also the first time sense "Batman The Movie" that a climax in a Batman film takes place during the day time. The music is also very stirring in this film, Hans Zimmer has a really awesome talent for composing really exciting and larger than life musical scores, I especially love the "Rise chant" that becomes Banes theme music. The pacing is equally great, this movie is almost three hours long yet it only feels like one hour.
     Overall, this film doesn’t launch itself into greatness the same way “The Dark Knight” did and while it has some small moments of disbelief and a few things to nitpick at (like not having the title in the opening for the third time), this film is still a personal favorite of the Batman movies. The action is great, the pacing is great, the characters are more human, the stakes are higher than ever before, the plots more exciting and it makes for such a fitting end to an otherwise stellar trilogy of films. I give “The Dark Knight Rises” 4 ½ stars.   
     So this ends my series of Batman reviews, I hope you enjoyed it and found it informative. Now what’s for the future of Batman? Well, now that Christopher Nolen’s series has finally concluded, I feel that it’s time for the hero to hang up his cape and take a much deserved rest for at least 8 or 10 years before he returns for another movie, although there is roomer of a Justice League movie which will of cores feature Batman. Overall, Batman’s had an excellent film series that’s made the character immortal and while I’d certainly be up for another installment, I feel that nine movies is plenty for now and that there’s no immediate need to start another Batman series.

Check out my Reviews of ...
"The Lego Batman Movie" in the February 2017 column.  

    Finally, to finish things off properly, my ranking of all 11 of the Batman movies from favorite to least favorite. I've also graded them, but my grades don't reflect how I ranked them. 

1st The Dark Knight (A+)
2nd Batman Mask of the Phantasm (A+)
3rd The Dark Knight Rises (A)
4th Batman (A-) 
5th Batman Forever (B+)
6th The Lego Batman Movie (A-) 
7th Batman Begins (A)
8th Batman The Movie (B-)
9th Batman & Robin (D+)
10th Batman Returns (C-)  
11th Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice (D)   

Thursday, July 12, 2012

The Dark Knight (2008 Review, 8th review of 9)

     Okay, Batman had always been an icon but now, thanks to Christopher Nolen’s new Dark Knight series, the character was being launched into absolute greatness and this next installment is an absolute blast. Now “Batman Begins” was a terrific film but it was going to be a hard one to top. Then in 2008, there was a sequel titled “The Dark Knight”, and it completely surpassed expectations.

      I'll admit, I wasn’t all that excited about this film and I thought it would just make a decent rental off Netflix. But then I found myself cot in so much hype for this film. I couldn’t leave the house, watch TV, or go on the computer without seeing some kind of advertisement and I immediately predicted this would be “Star Wars 1: The Phantom Menace” all over again, a lot of hype and then a disappointing payoff. However, I went to see it one afternoon and to my surprise, it was sensational, I will remember that theater experience for a long time. This truly is one of the greatest movie sequels ever made, right up there with “Terminator 2: Judgment Day” or “The Empire Strikes Back”, definitely one of the greatest superhero movies ever, along side “Spider-Man 2” or “X-Men” and while this isn't a very original opinion, I think this is the absolute best entry in the Batman film series. People have gone so far to say it’s one of their favorite movies, and I completely agree, this is one of my favorite movies too. 

     So what makes this film so great? Well, I loved how this wasn’t marketed toured kids and more for adults. On that note the story was nothing like your average comic book adaption. It didn’t feel like a live action Saturday morning cartoon either, this was smart, full of great structure and depth into the characters and it’s strung together with ideas and subjects regarding anarchy, peace, terrorism, morality and that’s just to name a few. It’s simply every bit as entertaining as it is thought provoking. In other words, “Batman Begins” was a great Batman movie but “The Dark Knight” was a great movie that just happened to be a Batman movie, it’s such a richly told crime thriller that you actually begin to forget it’s a Batman film. Director Christopher Nolen really knew how to portray these characters and push the envelope on how competent a comic book movie can be. He really is one of the greatest writers/ directors in force right now and has done some excellent films from “Memento” too “Inception”. The true strength of Christopher Nolen is that he writes real stories with big concepts, some terrific dialog, conversations and character interaction.

    Throughout the film we see Batman making all kinds of heroic decisions and smart planning, he’s not just waiting for the next fight, instead we finally see him acting like a superhero and as a detective. With all the great development into his character, strong emotions and heroic acts, this is easily one of the absolute best portrayals of his character and Christian Bale still delivers a satisfying performance. However, the story really isn't about him this time, it's all about the escalation of crime in Gotham city, and how Batman, Commissioner Gordon and District Attorney Harvey Dent are the three forces of peace who do all in their power to put things right. 

     Now it seems that the writers have stopped bringing in new Batman villains, instead their remaking some of the classic enemies and returning to be the main antagonist in this film is The Joker, who’s played brilliantly by the late Heath Ledger. This portrayal of The Joker is now being regarded as one of the greatest villain performances of all time, and with good reason because he was amazing. Just the way he looks at someone while liking his lips was intense. Not only was his performance great but his motivations were equally intense. His goal isn’t to destroy the hero but to corrupt him, he’s not after power or wealth, he just wants to prove a point, that anyone, no matter how good they are, can be just as crazy and evil as him. There’s almost a hint of a dark reality that comes from this character and that’s what makes him so scary. He’s like an unstoppable force of nature that can’t be reasoned with, he was also a smart mastermind who keeps a city in fear, intimidates mobs, breaks himself out of prison and no matter how hard the hero’s try to stop him, the Joker is always one step ahead, making him one of the most powerful and terrifying villains to challenge Batman. At times he comes off as a little funny and entertaining but he still stays relatively frightening. Basically he’s a combination of the dark side of comics and the dark side of reality. Another cool thing about him is how we know very little about his past or who he is, was he born this way, or did he go through something traumatizing, all this mystery just adds to the dark and complex fascination of his character. 

     I have to admit, even though the Joker is an excellent villain, I personally like Two-Face even more, honestly, this is my favorite villain in the whole Batman film series. He's played masterfully by Aaron Eckhart and his story is excellent. He isn't an evil mastermind that's after the city, instead he's a broken human who has been transformed by the loss of a loved one. I especially like how we don't even see him as Two-Face until the last half hour of the movie. This gives us the chance to know him as the District Attorney Harvey Dent first and when he becomes Two-Face, it just feels more tragic. This was a man that symbolized hope and lighting a city’s darkest hour but then without warning he became an unjust monster who was convinced that the only morality in the world is chance. It’s such a frightening concept, to think that any great world leader with noble intentions can fall without warning. He's arguably the most tragic of Batman's enemies and that just makes him all the more interesting. The makeup is outstanding, symbolizing the two faces of Gotham city, one pure and the other unjust. 

     Scarecrow, once again played by Cillian Murphy, makes a nice little cameo in the opening, following where he left of in “Batman Begins”. Some may be disappointed that he’s only in the movie for 5 minutes but I thought it was great just to see him there at all and it was really satisfying to see Batman take him down, especially sense they didn’t have a final fight in the last movie.

    All the terrific supporting characters from the last film are all back and are even brought up a notch. I look forwarded to seeing more of Morgan Freedmen as Lucius Fox in further installments, Michael Caine gives another terrific performance as Alfred and has even more terrific speeches to convey. The only cast change is for Rachel. Originally she was played by Katie Holmes but now she’s played by Maggie Gyllenhaal, to be fare she does look like an older Katie Holmes and it still feels like the same great character but I still wish they could have kept the same actress. According to many sources, Katie Holmes was too busy with the movie “Mad Money”, which is really a shame but at least they got a good cast replacement. Garry Oldman once again is outstanding as Commissioner Gordon, to me, he feels like a lead character and is the closest to being Batman’s partner. I love how the character is developed and Garry Oldman just brings him to life on so many intense and emotional levels. I really hope they never bring Robin or Bat Girl into these films because Commissioner Gordon is all the support Batman will ever need. 

    The cinematography in this movie is breath taking, the camera makes some outstanding wide sweeps through Chicago and it really draws you into the film and subjected you to the environment. The new bat cave is interesting and it makes for a cool looking base of operations even though it doesn’t resemble a cave at all, it’s just an underground base but that’s fine. I love how there’s little to no CG in this film, most of it is real locations, real sets and real stunts. Hans Zimmer’s score was just as great as ever and really drew me into the action. The new bat pod was also really cool, I wouldn’t mind if this becomes the new permanent bat vehicle. Also, I loved the new sonar device, very original and fits the character well. 

      Now, action has never been a strong point in a Batman film but here the action was just exhilarating. The hand to hand fights were well choreographed and edited, there were a lot of cool explosions and let’s not forget that awesome car chase, I mean wow, that’s easily one of the greatest car chases of all time! The climax is a non-stop thrill ride, with two boats on the verge of blowing each other up, a swat team mistakes hostages for gunmen that need to be taken down, and Batman has to find a way to resolve all this on his own, it'll just make your head explode. The final confrontation between Batman and Two-Face is especially intense as he's holding Commissioner Gordon’s family hostage and has no problem executed them in front of their father. The actual ending was another nice surprise, very unexpected and one of the greatest acts of heroism that Batman has ever done.     

      Some may feel that only evil comes from this film, well, there’s evil in it but it’s not about evil. Admittedly the film is dark and brooding but it’s also smart and exciting. This is a richly told story about the conflict of good trying to prevail over evil and enduring evil, it’s about rising up against corruption. It's also a war between two symbols and what they stand for, a battle between what Batman stands for and what the joker stands for, it’s the very soul of the city that’s at stake, not just the city itself and that’s what really launches this film as one of the greatest superhero movies ever made. There's also a lot of really unpredictable moments and character deaths that I never saw coming and if you've seen the movie, you already know what I'm talking about. 

   The film dose an outstanding job focusing on the character arks of Batman, Joker and Two-Face and gave use a terrific story surrounding them. Neither character overshadows the other, there all given just the right amount of attention. However, even a great movie like this will be picked a little by viewers, maybe for Batman’s voice, it’s darkness, the run time or the use of old movie clich├ęs like the 360 shot in which the camera constantly orbits around the actors talking. Whether you think this film is perfect is up to the viewer. 


     Personally, I thought it was a near flawless depiction of escalation, blind desperation, good falling from grace, hope in a hopeless situation and how fear can be a powerful tulle to turn a city into anarchy. The film may be long but it’s never boring, there’s always something to talk about in every scene, always something to notice or hold your interest, and whenever you think you've seen it all, the film gives you another twist that throws your brain in a loop and it has you asking yourself, how did they think of all this? It's dark, exciting, complex, solidly constructed and unforgettable, succeeding a a richly thrilling crime drama and as an entertaining superhero film. I give “The Dark Knight” a perfect 5 stars.


    So this is it, one more review left to go in my collection of theatrical Batman movie reviews, will Christopher Nolen end his trilogy on another high note, will Batman’s media legacy be brought to a proper close, stay tuned because a review of “The Dark Knight Rises” and conclusion to my series of theatrical Batman movie reviews is up next.